Club Mod uncorked a special live show at the studios of All Classical Portland on Saturday evening (December 3) that was delightful, informative, and extremely well played. The show was part of the Messiaen Mélange Musique festival that celebrated music created by or connected with Olivier Messiaen. Composer/impresario Bob Priest, who studied with Messiaen in Paris, created the MMM festival. Priest was a special guest of the Club Mod show, which was emceed by Club Mod host Robert McBride. McBride, who has one of the smoothest radio voices that you’ll ever hear, interviewed Priest before each set of pieces were played, which added tremendously to the context of the program. To top that off, Ronnie Lacroute read poems in French and English that related to theme of the music.
Amelia Lukas started the concert portion with a lyrical and blithe performance of Debussy’s “Syrinx” for the alto flute. Also lovely were a series of descending notes that she played with a pillowy softness. Next came “Le Merle Noir” (“The Black Bird”), Messiaen’s first piece based on bird song. This time, Lukas played the typical C flute and created all sorts of sounds that reminded me of fluttering birds that pecked about now and then. Pianist Monica Ohuchi supported Lukas with a forest of notes and the piece had a wonderful, improvised feel.
Kaija Saariaho is one of today’s preeminent composers, and her “Cendres” (“Cinders”) for piano, flute, and cello received its Portland premiere with Ohuchi, Lukas, and cellist Valdine Mishkin. The music in this piece ranged far and wide. The players used several extended techniques: Ohuchi reached inside the piano to fashion a harpsichord-like sound. Lukas and Mishkin produced a shimmer of half-tones. One passage for cello sounded like a squeaky door. It had lyrical and crystalline moments as well, and it ended quietly – just as ashes usually do.
Because Messiaen’s father was a scholar of Shakespeare’s work, Priest commissioned five pieces – each lasting one minute – inspired by Ariel’s song from “The Tempest.” Entitled the “Full Fathom Five”project, each piece was written by a different composer, beginning with Nancy Ives chant-like “Sea Change” for cello. That was followed by Linda Woody’s somber “The Bells Are Rich and Strange” for flute and cello. Next came Ken Selden’s questioning “Full Fathom 5.5” for flute, cello, and piano, which was followed by Antonio Celaya’s enigmatically lyrical “Something Rich and Strange” for flute and piano, and finally a wild and demonstrative “Sea-Changed” for piano by Jeff Winslow.
Bob Priest’s arrangement of Messiaen’s “Le Sourire” (“The Smile”) for flute, cello, and piano was delicate and lovely. I wish that it could have been extended somehow. Messiaen’s “Louange a l’eternite de Jesus” from his “Quartet for the End of Time,” received a wonderfully evocative performance by Mishkin and Ohuchi. Ohuchi played Messiaen’s “Ile de Feu I” (“Island of Fire”) with passion and élan. It was an excellent segue to a fine recording of “Turangalîla-Symphony” that closed out the evening.
McBride mentioned that Club Mod was in its ninth year. So it was high time to present a live concert, and this one was exceptional. Maybe we could hear more compositions from Northwest composers in the near future done in this kind of live format.